Scientists build US$1m ‘bionic man’ using artificial limbs and organs

29 Jan 2013

A ‘bionic man’ built using US$1m worth of artificial limbs and organs from around the globe has raised ethical questions about the research and use of advanced prosthetics.

Six-feet tall ‘Rex’ – short for robotic exoskeleton – has been built by scientists in the UK for a Channel 4 documentary about how far technology has come, featuring psychologist Bertolt Meyer, who has a bionic hand himself.

Research and work on prosthetic limbs and organs have developed to such an extent that scientists may not only be able to replace them, but improve upon them, causing other scientists to worry about and warn against the creation of a modern-day Frankenstein, The Telegraph reported.

Proponents of such technology, however, hope prosthetic replacements for failing organs will one day mean a shortage of organ donors will no longer be an issue.

Components of ‘bionic man’ Rex

Roboticists Richard Walker and Matthew Godden are the builders of Rex. Some of the material they used to construct the ‘bionic man’ include an artificial eye from the University of California that features a microchip implanted into the retina. A camera on the patient’s glasses sends images to the microchip, which then sends electrical impulses to brain which then translates them into shapes and patterns.

The hand and arm, from Touch Bionics in Glasgow, Scotland, and Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore, Maryland, respond to electrical impulses when the patient twitches his or her muscles.

The spleen, from Yale, Connecticut, uses a chip to filter out and trap infections in the blood. Rex’s ‘blood’ is made from plastic and apparently has a longer shelf-life than donated blood, as well as being free of infection.

Rex’s foot and ankle, courtesy of MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, contain sensors that read body movements and deliver enough power to run, walk or climb, The Daily Mail reported.

The research involved in constructing Rex is published in Radio Times.

How to Build a Bionic Man will air on C4 on Thursday, 7 February.

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic